WHAT: Learning to Wingsuit
Learning to wingsuit is awesome. Learning to wingsuit BASE, which involves using mountains as a launchpad, is next-level insanity. It’s insanely dangerous, prohibited in many countries, and an insurance nightmare. A wrong line, missed exit point, parachute failure, or suit malfunction are all that stand between you and the hereafter. On the upside, once you learn to wingsuit you get to play flying squirrel, dodging and weaving at breakneck speed over the planet’s most spectacular terrain.
Wingsuiting – A Brief History
In the early twentieth century, Franz Reichelt, an Austrian-born clothier, began flinging dummies from the fifth floor of his Paris apartment building dressed in homemade wearable parachutes. All went well, at first. However, Reichelt, AKA, “the Flying Tailor” knew commercial success would require robust proof of his suit’s effectiveness. On October 16, 1912, Reichelt ascended the first platform of the Eiffel tower. Moments later, before a crowd of excited onlookers, he became the sport’s first human sacrifice.
In the century since Reichelt became a puddle on the Parisian street, wingsuit design has evolved considerably. Canvas, silk, wood, whalebone, and even steel was replaced with ram-air wings made from ultra-light, highly durable ripstop nylon. When donned by the right pilots, modern rigs offer mind-blowing accuracy. They allow skilled wing suiters to brush trees, mountain walls, strike minuscule targets inches off the ground, bank and turn, and shoot between obstacles barely wider than their suit. Modern participants liken it to wearing a fabric fighter jet. Like a fighter jet, you’ll also need to know precisely how to fly one. You’ll need to learn to wingsuit.
The quickest way learn to wingsuit is to simply scout eBay for a rig, parachute, and goggles and go ahead and jump. Savor the experience, because the odds it’ll be your last are around 1/1. In reality, most wingsuit manufacturers or private sellers won’t look twice at a buyer that can’t verify their experience. To learn how to wingsuit and stand any chance of surviving, you’ll need to start here:
Learn to skydive. That vacation tandem jump won’t cut it. Even graduating from a solo skydiving course won’t get you close. To get near a wingsuit you’ll need a minimum of 200 logged jumps under your belt.
Start BASE-jumping: At this point, you’ve developed your freefall, deployment, and canopy skills, and can land on target. To move up to BASE-jumping, you’ll need to understand object avoidance, weather analysis, how to pack a base rig, planning multi-way exits, sub-terminal velocity deployments, and more. You’ll also need a passport, travel funds, and experienced jump buddies.
Learn to wingsuit. Your first wingsuit jump course (FWJC) is an introduction to wingsuit aerodynamics, wingsuit design, and glide adjustment techniques. You’ll learn how subtle shifts in body, hand, arm and shoulder positions create tight banks and turns, and control descent speed and gradient. After the basic boxes are checked you’ll be ready to learn flares, steep angle carving, and other acro maneuvers. If you wish to start proximity flying, you’ll need to learn to wingsuit BASE.
Wingsuit BASE / Proximity Flying. Proximity Flying is a highly advanced spinoff from Wingsuit BASE Jumping and the exclusive domain of next-next-level aviation junkies. By flying in close “proximity” to the ground, trees, cliff faces, and even through natural rock arches, the margin for error plummets while the mortality rate rockets. Assuming you’ve acquired the confidence and relevant skills, it’s now time to bring the disciplines together and learn to wingsuit BASE. You’ll study the theory and practice of setting complex lines and planning exits. Anyone learning to wingsuit BASE will also be taught how to fly and maneuver in challenging alpine environments.
Stay humble. By now you’ll hopefully be in with a tight, exclusive group of close friends and mentors. You’ll need these as much as anything. Remember the classic aviation maxim: “there are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there’s no old, bold pilots.” The best guys in the world remain humble and grateful for advice. Follow their lead.
Go for it.
The best places to learn to Wingsuit are in the US and Europe. There are some great spots in the US. Sadly, most of them have prohibited BASE jumping. Look to Switzerland, Norway, New Zealand, and maybe China.
Wing suiting, particularly proximity flying, is the most dangerous sport in existence.
To learn to wingsuit is to learn how to fly like a bird. It may be the most intense and unique experience available to humans. You won’t appear in the Olympics, but the most dedicated may be able to eke out a living picking up corporate sponsorship from Red Bull, Go-Pro et al.